I couldn’t remember what I thought of this film, so I’m grateful I have written it down.
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, etc…
Director: Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 113 minutes
Plot: Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) has a form of amnesia in which he cannot store new memories, he writes notes, tattoos himself and takes Polaroid photos in order to tell himself what he needs to do. Memento chronicles two separate stories of Leonard as he attempts to find the murderer of his wife – the last thing he remembers and a man he believes to be called Teddy (Joe Pantoliano).
Memento at its most basic is a revenge thriller; Leonard Shelby is looking to kill the man who killed his wife – it’s a good thriller too. But what does Nolan go and do? Make the film more interesting by telling it in a backwards and forward narrative. One story follows the conventional method of telling the story forwards, while the other lets us go into more detail of the characters by working backwards.
It’s a clever way of telling a story we’ve been given countless times (the revenge narrative), but at times it certainly does stumble over its own perceived smartness. The beginning of the film is the end, Leonard killing Teddy – but it is not until the end of the film we find out if this was the right thing to do or not. It sometimes feels rather confusing, but it is worth it in the end, when all the pieces of the puzzle fit together – accept they don’t.
Focussing the film on a character who cannot make new memories requires a more interesting form of storytelling, and we do feel as confused as Leonard for the majority of the film (it helps that Memento never switches to different points of view for too long), it’s a system that works fairly well and leads to quite a funny film at times. However, I know supposedly a puzzle film needs an open ending in order to truly work, but I left Memento feeling slightly dissatisfied, wondering if Leonard killed the right person. All other aspects of the story are tied up expertly (don’t wanna give too much away here though) and it’s a shame that we don’t get quite the conclusion I feel we deserve.
Despite the film’s confusing structure and slightly lacking pay-off, Memento carries with it a fine script bolstered by solid performances from all actors involved. Guy Pearce does feel a little dry as a lead, not quite angry enough, and never quite confused enough, but he does do a good job with desperation and narration. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano steal the show, both giving very good performances respectively. The rest of the cast performs very well too, really fleshing out the film’s world.
The most interesting part of the film comes with Leonard’s stories on the phone, talking about another man with the same illness as him. It’s a very interesting side that brings out the film and is worth a watch by itself.
The film makes the convoluted narrative slightly easier to understand by swapping between black and white and colour film, it’s a nice effect that makes Memento stand out even further than it already does. The cinematography in Memento is good too, not fantastic, but good. The framing with mirrors and photographs make for good visual motifs, strengthening the film’s sense of style and image.
Memento is a modern classic that doesn’t value style over substance. The convoluted narrative structure never becomes quite too much to handle and despite the disappointing ending it does all fit together rather well. It’s not the easiest film to recommend but Memento is smart enough to warrant a watch, I just don’t know if you’ll enjoy it a huge amount.
Memento isn’t a great film, but it certainly deserves its status as a modern classic; slightly better acting from Guy Pearce and a stronger conclusion would have made Memento a great.